Connecticut Tribes Dismiss Bridgeport Casino Pitch From Governor, Committed to East Windsor Satellite

Posted on: August 6, 2019, 07:08h. 

Last updated on: August 6, 2019, 12:58h.

The two Connecticut tribes have rejected a gaming expansion proposal from Governor Ned Lamont (D) that would have allowed them to construct an integrated casino resort in Bridgeport, obtain sports betting rights, and potentially acquire the XL Center arena in the capital city of Hartford.

Connecticut tribes East Windsor casino
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot, one of two Connecticut tribes, says the governor’s offer to build a casino in Bridgeport isn’t attractive. (Image: Jessica Hill/AP)

Lamont’s offer was contingent on the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indians folding on their satellite casino project in East Windsor. The smaller $300-$400 million venue proposed to house 2,000 slot machines and 120 table games was authorized in June 2017 in order to slow gaming dollars and critical tax revenue from flowing across the state border to MGM Springfield in Massachusetts.

They are not willing to walk away from the Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, a project where they’ve invested nearly $20 million,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT, the joint venture of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations, said in a statement.

Lamont’s office later explained the tribes buying the city-owned XL Center wasn’t a requirement under his gaming expansion proposal, but simply an enticement for the tribes to invest in other forms of entertainment.

“I’ve got a priority to fix the XL Center and make that what it should be, as a center for this growing city of Hartford,” the governor declared. “And I’ve reached out to a number of different groups as we think about a public-private partnership, which is the best way for us to do it.”

Legal War Continues

MGM Resorts has been accused by Connecticut lawmakers and the state’s congressional delegation of successfully using its lobbying prowess in DC to delay the Tribal Winds Casino, the proposed satellite casino. The Las Vegas-based casino giant has argued in court that the state legalized commercial gambling without voter consent – as the East Windsor site is on non-sovereign land.

The Department of the Interior failed to formally approve of the tribal satellite until March 2019. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being investigated by the US Department of Justice as to why he didn’t respond to Connecticut’s gaming compact amendments. 

MGM also contends that the state unlawfully failed to hold a competitive bidding process for the East Windsor casino. The company has its reasons for such claims, as it wants to protect the largest regional monopoly on gaming as possible for its $960 million Springfield resort.

Sports Betting Factor

The Connecticut tribes want to operate sports betting in wake of the May 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal ban that had essentially limited such gambling everywhere but Nevada. The Native American groups say they have the exclusive right to run sportsbooks should the state move to legalize wagering on sports.

Under the tribes’ gaming compacts with the state, they have the exclusive right to operate any form of legal casino gambling in exchange for sharing 25 percent of their slot revenue with the government.

The topic could become a bargaining chip for Lamont and the other state lawmakers who want a casino in Bridgeport. The tribes remain focused on their sizable investment in the north-central part of the state where they hope the East Windsor casino can help reverse its casino win fortunes.

Slot gross gaming revenue at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun has decreased by nearly 40 percent since 2006, as competition in nearby states continues to expand.